I had planned to take the overland route from India to Nepal, but with train tickets so hard to get and the World Heritage Site close to the border (one of two cultural ones in Nepal) sounding quite dull, I decided to fly to Kathmandu instead. Not that this option was without its concerns.
The airport was voted one of the world’s worst not so long ago, with the process for visas on arrival being slow and tortuous. Either things have improved or I caught them on a good day, because it was all remarkably smooth. I didn’t even have to snatch my luggage from the hands of a small boy touting for portering fees, as I’d been warned happens.
This WHS comprises seven sites in and around the city of Kathmandu, comprising three palaces with their associated Durbar Squares and temples plus four religious sites (two Hindu and two Buddhist). I managed to see two palace areas and one site for each religion.
The whole site is listed by UNESCO for being a showcase for the architecture and cultural heritage of the Newars, the indigenous inhabitants of the valley, whose artistic achievements are seen as being at their height between 1500 and 1800.
In the centre of Kathmandu itself is the Basantapur Durbar Square, with a complex group of palaces, mansions, courtyards and temples, all wonderfully decorated and surrounded by colourful market traders.
Most of the buildings are red brick, with carved natural wood embellishments, widely overhanging tiled roofs and distinctive lattice windows that have extended horizontal members top and bottom. If all the trekking gear shops in town were not enough of a clue, this architecture shouts “Nepal”.
On a hill west of the city, the stupa at Swayambhu is the oldest Buddhist monument in the country and is an important place of pilgrimage. It comes complete with an awful lot of stalls purveying so many religious statues and knick-knacks that I really wished I could buy, if only they’d fit in my luggage. I settled for a fabulous solar-powered gilt plastic prayer wheel of the kind I’d seen on car dashboards. Its acquisition made me ridiculously happy.
Pashupati, the Hindu site I went to on the other side of town, seemed initially to just be a temple that as a non-believer I could only look at from the outside. Then I found the much larger area behind it, accessed on the same ticket, along the banks of a sacred river. Here there are shrines, temples and ghats, both bathing and crematory.
I got chatting to a young guide (we went for tea later and he told me about his German girlfriend) and he assured me that it was fine to watch the various cremations that were taking place in front of us and that is was not regarded as a private event.
After a day with no transport due to a general strike (I spent most of the time reading in a lovely walled garden), I rounded off my visit with a trip out to the Durbar Square in Bhaktapur, a small town 13km from Kathmandu.
The whole area is much more open and less chaotic than in Kathmandu, but sadly this is because many of its buildings were lost in a 1934 earthquake, so whilst what remains is a great place to visit, it probably doesn’t give the full flavour of the past.
I chose a building from this square for my Lego model.
I was quite unable to manage a model with four equally spaced columns though, so you only get three.
And here’s your bonus ‘goats playing on a car bonnet’ picture, also taken in Bhaktapur. You can see the whole sequence of photos on Cute Overload.